Hodapp: Increased Deputy Presence Cuts Crime, Traffic Fatalities

Brad Swenson Bemidji Pioneer
Published Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp shares preliminary results of the department’s Safe Neighborhoods Project with members of the Bemidji Sunrise Rotary Club on Tuesday morning. The project has led to lower crime rates, he said. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Boosting deputy presence throughout rural Beltrami County results in a lower crime rate and fewer traffic fatalities, a product of the county’s Safe Neighborhoods Project.

“Our pro-active police contacts have gone up dramatically,” Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said Tuesday. “Officers are stopping someone for whatever reason — it could be a minor infraction, a minor traffic violation, equipment violation, drunk driving — anything like that.”

The department’s number of contacts and written warnings nearly doubled from 2007 to 2008.

“That’s an effort that we started in the Sheriff’s Office to have our officers out patrolling, and actually pulling people over to just tell them they’ve got a headlight out,” Hodapp said in a presentation to the Bemidji Sunrise Rotary Club.

“A number of things happen,” he said. “One, they get to know these people that are out on the roads. They’re providing some information to the person. If that’s their only problem, they get to go along with a little warning to fix their headlight.”

That activity helps public safety by making that person’s car safer, Hodapp said.

“Occasionally, that’s how we catch a drunk driver,” he said. “That might be how they find somebody transporting narcotics, or carrying weapons or has a warrant.”

The Safe Neighborhoods Project is a pro-active policing strategy that deploys officers throughout the county to actively reduce criminal activity and the number of serious and fatal crashes, Hodapp said.

It includes work toward streamlining internal processes and procedures, improving data user availability and access by eventually using a Web-based system to chart where crime occurs in the county, and greater use of diversion programs.

Instituted over the last two years, the program has seen a trend that indicates a noticeable drop in the number of a variety of crimes, he said.

From 2007 to 2008, burglaries declined from 176 to 93, assaults dropped from 365 to 275, and there were only two robberies in 2008, down one from the previous year, Hodapp said. Property damage went from 411 to 345.

Thefts declined from 336 to 275 —thefts from vehicles were down 38 to 17, gas drive-offs down from 70 to 52, while the only uptick was in thefts from fish houses or boats, which increased from 17 to 55.

Vehicle thefts, which were at 93 in 2004, were at 52 in 2007 and in 2008.

“There’s a downtick in a lot of crimes,” the first-term sheriff said. “Our vehicle thefts have gone down, due in part to an effort we’ve had going in conjunction with the city to get out and work on auto thefts.”

A public campaign has included safety tips such as not leaving the keys in the car, he said. “All of those efforts have helped reduce the thefts.”

Weapons offenses totaled 62 in 2008, down from 75 the previous year, and controlled substance crimes dropped from 45 to 35.

“We’ve been really concentrating on trying to interdict the flow of drugs that come into the county and pass through the county,” Hodapp said, “and I think it’s been working.”

A real problem in Beltrami County is suicides, he said, but that number dropped from eight in 2006 to two in 2007 and again in 2008. Suicide attempts were 18 in 2007 and 13 last year.

“This is a definite problem,” he said, adding that there is a support structure in the community to aid with suicide prevention. “I do wonder if we’re not going to see an uptick in this now with the economy going the way it is.”

With the rate of crime down in most areas, the effect of the current recession hasn’t fully hit yet, Hodapp thought.

Hodapp said in 2006, Beltrami County was No. 13 on the Minnesota Public Safety Department’s Top 13 most deadliest counties with eight fatalities. That figure dropped to four last year.

“Any lives lost out on the road is just a shame,” he said. “Who do you want to get killed out on the road this year? That’s the kind of question we have to ask ourselves every time we get behind the wheel of a car.”

As a result, Hodapp said, “our efforts have been directed at improving the safety for our motoring public too. We want you, when you get in your car, to know you’re going to have a safe trip home and your kids, when they’re out driving around, they will be safe.”

One statistic did go up — serious injury crashes when up from 59 to 80. Driving while intoxicated arrests also went up — from 257 to 332.

Hodapp pointed out that the statistics are for rural Beltrami County under the Sheriff’s Department jurisdiction and outside of the city of Bemidji.

But the Sheriff’s Department handles dispatch duties for both the county and the city. In 2008, a total 35,228 calls for service were made, with 18,782 involving the Sheriff’s Department.

“The crime rate right in town here (Bemidji) is equivalent to the crime rate in Minneapolis,” Hodapp said. “We track everything here; we’ve got a very good records management system. So part of it is we’re reporting accurately.”

Also, Bemidji is a regional hub, he said. “This is where everybody comes to shop and to drink and everything else, and then make their way back home. Bad things start to happen when people start drinking or using drugs, and usually that’s right here.”

The Sheriff’s Department’s main patrolling is outside the city, he added., “so we try to interdict a lot of that stuff, moving back and forth from the rural areas.”

But in the scheme of things, he said, “this is a very safe place to live, especially if you start to look at some of this stuff (statistics) you see that our efforts are starting to pay off.”

The Safe Neighborhoods Project not only involves the Sheriff’s Department, he said, adding that it is a part of an overall outcome-based system the county plans to implement.

The system, Strategy Aligned Management Initiative, adopted by County Administrator Tony Murphy, is a countywide effort to change the way the county does business.

“Our county structure is set up as a service delivery structure,” Hodapp said. “We do a really great job of delivering services to the clients. … (The new system) looks at what does the public expect from us, what do the citizens want from their government, what kind of outcomes do they expect to obtain, and then focus on delivering those outcomes.”

County outcome areas include resource excellence, safe neighborhoods, expanding opportunity, caring communities and results-oriented government, the sheriff said.

The Safe Neighborhoods Project “doesn’t simply involve the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “It involves the County Highway Department, because they’re working on improving the safety of the roads and work with us on signage. They engineer new roads so that they’re safer.”

Similarly, Hodapp said his office works with the County Health and Human Services Department, both in public health and in human services on such issues as child protection cases.

“Everybody has to pull in the same direction,” he said.

The Safe Neighborhoods concept included:

  • Safe roads and bridges will be constructed to meet current and anticipated traffic needs.
  • Law enforcement services will target those efforts to ensure the highest level of compliance with law and effectively reduce crime in our communities.
  • Provide a high level of safety for those using the county infrastructure.
  • Maintaining and improving the safety for those people and their property in the county.
  • Maintain and improve safety for children in the county.
  • Provide effective justice for residents and law violators.
  • The county will support public safety initiatives that reduce recidivism.

The latter, he said, is key as much of the problem is caused by a small number of people who keep repeating through the system, he said.

“We’re just breaking the water on this, we’ve got a long ways to go to address the problem,” he said. “In our jail population, we house a lot of people who are repeat offenders, such as in the drunk-driving realm.”

Hodapp says that “we don’t know what the solutions are, but we’re willing to try some different things.”


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